Category Archives: Italian

Tutta Bella

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2+

Tutta Bella Pie

Tutta Bella Pie

Seattle is not New York or Chicago, so you can fuhgeddabout all the fine distinctions that make pies worthy of either the Big Apple or the Windy City.

Still, Seattle’s trying. Tutta Bella isn’t exactly news anymore, but it’s representative of the wave of artisanal pizzerias that have recently opened up.

Without naming additional names, let me say that there’s an eerie similarity to these pizzerias, and I’m just holding Tutta Bella up as the most obvious and established offender: paper thin crusts splotched by bubbles of black char.

Burnt dough simply doesn’t taste good–I don’t care how much sauce, cheese, or creative topping is surrounding or covering these ugly boils. And yet for some reason, the local fancy pizzerias insist on offering up these offenders. Why?

Until I actually experience a pizza that is not partially burnt, sooty, or charred, I cannot recommend Tutta Bella without reservations. That simply hasn’t happened yet. At best, I can salvage a piece or two from an entire pie. And then I wonder: Is it really worth the trouble and expense?

That rhetorical question makes me think of the ne plus ultra of American pizzerias, Pizzeria Bianco. Located in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona, Bianco offers up the kind of pizza that I will gladly suffer a trip to the dessert just to eat–pizza that’s worth a great deal of trouble and expense. (And Phoenix is much closer than Chicago and New York!) In April, we ate there twice; I stood in line for an hour both times to hold our places. As we were boarding the flight back to Seattle, my husband and three children walked on carrying their own boxes from Pizzeria Bianco. “Is it really that good?” someone asked. My children nodded solemnly, clutching their boxes for dear life. They’re still talking about the experience wistfully, asking when we’re going back. “Mama, that pizza was the best pizza in the world.” “Not quite,” I say. “There’s a couple places in Italy I gotta show you…”)

South Lake Union
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Columbia City:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wallingford:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

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Filed under 15654811, Casual, Italian, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Pizza

Tulio

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Tulio's legendary sweet potato gnocchi

Tulio's legendary sweet potato gnocchi

If you are yearning to escape the world, but only have an afternoon to spare, then take yourself to Tulio, settle into a banquette, and eat. As you ease into the charm of this most authentic Old World setting, with its dark wood furniture, leaded glass doors, and mahogany bar, you’ll find yourself amazed to be still in Seattle.

Long a fixture in the city’s fine dining scene, Tulio is easy to overlook. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating this classy standard: Nowhere in town will you find gnocchi as brilliant as Tulio’s, made with sweet potato, flash-fried to a golden sweetness, and finished with a savory touch of sage.  It’s also one of the best appetizer bargains in town at $9. The salmon ravioli ($17) also deserves its iconic status: whole bits of salmon are carefully enrobed in pasta and finished with a rich, lemony Hollandaise. Perfection.

As superb as the gnocchi and ravioli are, my vote belongs to the baccala appetizer ($9) as the one dish that must never, ever leave the menu. This creamy paste of cod is served with whisper-thin crackles of crostini. Rich and soul-satsifying, and one of the most authentically Old World treatments of this versatile dried fish in town–I enthusiastically recommend it. The orecchiette ($15) is a wonderful presentation of tiny ear-shaped pasta, made savory with sausage, rapini, and a light splash of tomato sauce. The roast chicken $19) here easily equals Le Pichet’s as some of the most hauntingly savory and tender in town; this version comes with a touch of caramelized garlic and a side of creamy risotto. Can’t decide on the many tempting options? Most of the pastas come in half-size portions–just ask your server.

Lunch is perhaps the most crowded time to sample the pleasures of Tulio, as the downtown power suits dine here en masse. But arrive at 1pm, and you’ll get a seat with no problem, and maybe even a glimpse of the chef, Walter Pisano, who named this lovely restaurant after his father. Breakfast is also another tempting option to consider. The rustic grilled bread ($13.95) with poached egg, mushroom tomato ragu, and basil Hollandaise is quite simply one of the most delicious spins on eggs Benedict you’ll find–and a rare vegetarian version.

Tulio is located on the ground floor of the Hotel Vintage Park, which is why it serves three meals a day. Take advantage of these generous hours to while away a full day here. The prices are quite low for food of this caliber, and you might even feel like you’re on vacation far, far away–if only for a few precious hours.
Tulio Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Breakfast, Italian, Vegetarian Friendly

Cafe Juanita

Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 3

Silken pastas, intense but modulated sauces, scrumptious breads and dessert, peerless service, thoughtful wine list–these are just a few of the reasons Cafe Juanita defies its odd neighborhood location in Kirkland and draws devotees from all over Puget Sound.

Chef Holly Smith deserves all the considerable professional kudos she’s received for keeping Cafe Juanita head and shoulders above the pack. Attention to detail is deliciously evident everywhere, even in the bread basket. Delicate rounds of cayenne and Parmesan that crackle then melt on the tongue; olive oil and sea salt focaccia; a tender-crumbed potato bread; a  rosemary scented flatbread cracker. These breads are so delicious, it’s easy to overdo it at this point. 

Pastas can be ordered in sizes small or large, a great option for grazers who like to sample a bit of everything. We had the agnoletti, wonderful little pinches of pasta with rabbit inside, and a classic tagliatelle in a succulent Bolognese. Our expertly cooked entrees included Wagyu steak and a roasted trout. Both of them perfection.

In my quest to find the best Caesar salad in town, I chanced upon one here that takes the prize. Cafe Juanita’s anchovy vinaigrette Romaine salad isn’t technically a Caesar–it’s more like what a Caesar should be but never is. Anchovy bits and toasted bread crumbs flecked the Romaine leaves, which were glossy with oil. I’m sure salt and garlic were in the flavor lineup, but neither one stood out. A classy take on a classic.

From start to finish, Cafe Juanita is a smooth experience, with no glitches anywhere. Service wasn’t obsequious, showy, aloof or excessively friendly but struck exactly the right tone. Dessert hit the sweet spot as well: The cookie sampler showcased more of the pastry chef’s quiet magic, while the hazelnut chocolate mouse did an uptown riff on Nutella that was fun and easy to eat.

Wine geeks will love the list, which offers an attractive lineup of major Italian wines as well as more adventurous selections from smaller producers. 

As we left, we asked ourselves in wonder why we didn’t eat there more often. The freeway reminded us of the reason. Then again, Italy’s a  lot further away and not nearly as easy to get to as Cafe Juanita.

Cafe Juanita on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Eastside Restaurants, Italian

Il Terrazzo Carmine

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2

As it approaches its quarter-century mark, Carmine Smeraldo’s restaurant still attracts the movers and shakers that have been gathering there en masse for so many years. Last night’s visit–our second after our last visit there 5 years ago–revealed why. Things don’t change much here, and that’s both a good and bad thing. Waiters still wear their buttoned-up white jackets; lawyers still gather in flocks; and the shrimp provinciale is still hauntingly delicious–enough to make me say that I’d consider going back.

Here’s the deal: Il Terrazzo Carmine is the most authentic Italian-American food you’ll find in Seattle. For more of the same, you’d have to go to New York’s Patsy’s (whose sauces are available at Metropolitan Market) or Chicago. Italian-American is not the same as Italian. The easiest way to remember the difference is that you’re not likely to find these usual suspects–saltimboccas, marasalas, piccatas, spumoni, cannoli, tiramisu–at an “authentic” Italian restaurant.  (If you do, you won’t recognize them. For authentic Italian, the closest you’ll find locally are Spinasse, Salumi, and Cafe Juanita.) If you don’t confuse these two distinctly different cuisines, then it’s easier to understand Il Terrazzo’s godfatherly grip over that end of the city. When we left at 7pm on a Wednesday night, every seat in the house was taken, and the ratio of men to women was 10 to 1.

And therein lies another source of Il Terrazzo’s enduring appeal: It’s an unabashed guy’s restaurant, never mind the floral curtains hanging in the windows or the obligtory rose stuck in the bud vase. If you order the “small” pasta plate, you’ll get a portion that would be considered generous in a place like How to Cook a Wolf (which aspires toward Italian).  Contorni, side dishes, come heaped on the same plate as your meat entree. The chewy and uninspired duck arrived with a heap of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The veal marsala (competent) came with white truffle fettucini and more of that blah steamed broccoli.

This presentation didn’t make sense to us, as we had ordered an appetizer and two small pasta dishes (a delicious rabbit mushroom ravioli; an OK penne bolognese) as well as a Caesar salad (I’m on the hunt for a brillliant one; this one was just good). The broccoli was left untouched as it reminded us too much of the boring, buttered version we serve our children (who won’t eat it any other way). And as long as I’m noticing flaws, I might as well point out the propensity of the kitchen to lavish black pepper on everything, in copious amounts.

The dessert tray offered cheesecake, chocolate mouse, tiramisu, cannoli, of course. The wine list featured mostly name-brand, expensive American wines whose names (and status) the average suit will most likely recognize. This is not a place for serious wine-lovers looking for hard-to-find Italian labels.
Il Terrazzo Carmine on Urbanspoon

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How to Cook a Wolf

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

If you live on Queen Anne, then elbowing the rest of the pack for a parking spot and a hard-to-find seat inside this pocket-sized restaurant just might be worth all the hassle. But folks in Laurelhurst or Denny Blaine should consider options closer to home. The brief, Italian-inspired menu lists a dozen or so items that are meant to be shared: some pasta dishes, appetizers, a salad or two, some meat, fish or fowl, all constantly updated (only the house anchovy spaghetti seems a fixture).  Of Ethan Stowell’s three overly hyped restaurants (Union and Tavolata are the older siblings), Wolf is most likely to endure, even after the novelty wears off. Our second visit in November ’08 was satisfying, if not spectacular. (Disclosure: We were there to use up a gift certificate).
How To Cook a Wolf on Urbanspoon

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Spinasse

Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 2
Spinasse‘s take on Italian food is unpretentious, unfake, and utterly delicious. Sit at the bar (the lower counter) for the best experience. Show up at 5:00 if you didn’t make reservations. Justin Niedermeyer knows how to cut pasta and isn’t afraid to do so while his patrons are eating just a fork’s throw away from him. The Bolognese was a true ragu, with little bits of meat and not too much sauce. Rabbit was a revelation: Tender and perfectly cooked. Get the $75 prix fixe option that allows you to taste the entire menu–it’s one of the best deals in town.
Cascina Spinasse on Urbanspoon

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Branzino

Repeatable: No. Visits: 1

Belltowner’s appetites seem to be dictated solely by trends. A smart restaurateur should realize this and simply shutter their restaurant after two years of newness, then reopen again with a new “concept” (yucky word, I know).

The new Branzino was packed on Saturday night, while the no-longer-new-but-slightly-better Tavolata right down the same street (Second) was echoingly empty. A mystery, because the only thing we enjoyed at Branzino was the cookie sampler dessert. The tagliatelle: Chunky green strands of noodles trapped in a viscous, creamy sauce whose texture made me think of canned mushroom soup. The veal marsala: dry slivers of meat with a nondescript sauce. The real headscratchers? An overcooked risotto that could have been mistaken for rice pudding and an undercooked potato truffle gratin that bordered on crunchy.
Branzino on Urbanspoon

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